Wollumbin High, Kingscliff High, & Beverly Hills IEC

First contact

On Tuesday 16th May 2006, 15 students, three staff members, a parent and a community information officer made their way from Beverly Hills in south western Sydney to the airport to begin a four day visit to the Tweed Region of northern New South Wales. 

The trip which had been months in the planning, was organised as a part of a cultural exchange program. Funding from the South Western Sydney Region of the NSW Department of Education and training as well as the Premier’s Department provided support for the program. The aim of the program was to bring together students from communities different to their own to build community harmony and increase intercultural understanding.

Fifteen students from the Beverly Hills Intensive English Centre (IEC) travelled to the Tweed Region to meet local secondary and primary students. The IEC students had all been in Australia for less than a year and came from a variety of different countries including Sudan, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Brazil, Lebanon, China, Korea, Laos, Finland, the Phillippines, Pakistan, Indonesia, Tonga and Egypt.

The four day visit began with a two night stay with students from Kingscliff High School, workshops with Year 10 Geography students and Year 11 and 12 Society and Culture students and a welcome to country by local Indigenous youth and their Aboriginal Studies teacher.

Included in the activities at Kingscliff, was a visit from representatives of three levels of government. Mr Max Boyd, Administrator for the Tweed Shire Council, spoke to students about the difficulties facing the local government area. The students also heard from Mr Neville Newell, State Member for Tweed who spoke to students about their rights and responsibilities as citizens in a democratic society and from Ms Justine Eliot MP, the Federal Member for Richmond. From these addresses, students from both Beverly Hills IEC and Kingscliff High gained a valuable insight into the workings of the Australian democracy and systems of government.

Mr Ron Hankin, School Education Director for the North Coast Region, also addressed the students. He spoke to them about not being afraid of difference and the benefits of learning about other people’s lives. In particular, he urged Kingscliff students to use the cultural exchange experience as a starting point to explore the diversity within their own community.

The students from Kingscliff High School generously opened their hearts, minds and homes to students from Beverly Hills IEC, sharing with them their beautiful community and different lifestyles. In return, Beverly Hills IEC students shared stories of their migrant and refugee experiences, spoke about conflict in their homelands and discussed their hopes for their futures in Australia.

In the next stage of the program, students from Beverly Hills IEC visited small primary schools in the area. Children for Crabbes Creek Public School and Duranbah Public School chatted with the IEC students asking questions about their home life, leisure time and food. They shared music and learned dances from the visiting students. The families of the Duranbah community made food from the countries represented and the children displayed research assignments on each of the countries.

The final stage of the program was a visit to Wollumbin High School in Mount Warning. On arrival, the IEC students were warmly greeted by Wollumbin students. The students spent the afternoon investigating the nature of conflict and developing strategies to manage conflict situations. They shared stories of their personal journeys and talked about their dreams for a conflict free future. IEC students addressed a whole school assembly, answering questions from the Wollumbin student body which ranged from, “Are there polar bears in Finland?” to “Are Muslim girls allowed to choose their own husbands?” and “What is the civil war in Sierra Leone all about?” With developing English skills, the IEC students courageously answered the questions.

The afternoon ended with a traditional Aussie bush dance which metamorphosed into an African dance involving all the students. On their return to Sydney, the students from Beverly Hills IEC commented on the friendliness and generosity of the families and students they had met. Many were surprised that others had wanted to know about their countries of origin and personal journeys. All students expressed a desire to remain in contact with the students they had met and shared their stories with other Beverly Hills IEC students.